Colloquium. The Ossigeno proposals

These speech was pronounced by the president at the meeting held at Bruxelles’ Press Club on November 6, 2019

On the 2nd November, the International UN Day to end Impunity for crimes against Journalists, offered us the opportunity to update the situation and to express, based on the facts, serious concerns about limitations on the right to information that have manifested themselves, unchallenged. Each year they are spreading more and more even in the most free and democratic countries.

Also this year, Ossigeno per l’Informazione celebrated this important day in Rome, in a solemn way on the 25th October in the Italian Senate, with a conference under the patronage of UNESCO. The full video and various interventions of the event can be found on our website www.ossigeno.info

During the conference we presented the most recent data on attacks on journalists.

We first reported the UNESCO data which, in summary, demonstrate that:
. last year, a further 99 journalists have been killed in the world. This brings the total of those killed over the past 12 years to 1109
. impunity for these crimes is 90 per cent
. 70 per cent of journalists killed are local reporters who reported uncomfortable facts about politics, corruption, and organized crime.

Ossigeno has added its data on impunity in Italy to threats against journalists.
These data, in a nutshell, say:

1) from 2011 to 2016 the number of spurious, groundless, instrumental and often intimidating lawsuits has doubled in Italy. The definitive verdict of imprisonment for libel has also been doubled. These are official data.
2) In the same period in Italy, according to calculations made by Ossigeno on its sample of verified cases, impunity decreased slightly but gradually, going from 96.8% in the 2011-2018 period to 92.8 % of 2019. However, in the last year this gradual improvement has suffered a setback (given that in 2019 impunity was 91.8).
This slowdown of the results of the fight against impunity is, for Ossigeno, a cause for great concern. In fact, this slowdown suggests that Ossigeno’s continuous monitoring and reporting activity is no longer producing the same incisive effects and positive results as before. It indicates that in 2019 Italy has not maintained the pace of previous years in the fight against impunity. It signals that the desired pressure has eased off, that the stimuli we produce are less effective, that the general mobilization that in recent years has supported the demand for countermeasures is less extensive. We will analyse the reasons for this in the coming months. Probably in the absence of concrete and visible results, resignation and fatalism grow and it is easier to continue postponing any solution.

What then is to be done? It is precisely this that we want to discuss with you in this meeting which, not by chance, we organized in the form of a colloquium and an exchange of opinions, enriching it with the corroborating testimony of Paolo Borrometi, a courageous Italian journalist who published exclusively sensational news on the activity of some Mafia organizations in that part of Sicily (the area of ​​Ragusa and Syracuse) where he and I were born, the area where 47 years ago my brother was killed, another journalist who had revealed exclusively uncomfortable facts. This area of ​​Sicily enjoys an undeserved reputation as a place exempt from the Mafia presence. A fame fuelled by the silence of the media. For having broken this silence, in 2014 Paolo Borrometi was attacked and repeatedly received death threats. Since then he lives under guard, protected round the clock by the police. He is one of 22 Italian journalists under police escort, to whom two more have been added in recent weeks. We will shortly give him the floor, but first let me say a few things on which I want to have your opinions.

Our view is clear. We think that in Europe we have now reached a crucial point in the fight against impunity that requires a change of pace on the part of all of us, NGOs and institutions. As the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic wrote, in the message sent on October 25th to the Ossigeno conference, it is more than ever necessary to move from words to deeds. In the sense that the mere denunciation of individual violations is no longer enough, it is not effective, it does not shake consciences nor does it convince national governments to take the necessary and indispensable counter-measures that have been listed for several years in the UN approved Recommendations, by the Council of Europe, Unesco and more recently , in December 2018 by OSCE with the Milan Declaration that the OSCE Representative for Media Freedom, Harlem Désir, appropriately recalled in the message.

We think that to get concrete measures it is necessary
A) to forcefully remind each national government of the obligations it has assumed by signing the international Treaties.
B) to ask the European Parliament and the European Commission to exercise more widely their role as the “locomotive” of democracy and freedom of information by developing directives on concrete ways to solve the most obvious problems common to the member countries that hinder the fight against impunity.
First of all by legally protecting the right to information, making it possible to punish violations of the right to information as defined by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, establishing an aggravating circumstance specific to all crimes committed in order to prevent the exercise of this right, making widespread decriminalization of libel (as has already happened for the offence of slander) and, at the same time, distinguishing it as a different and distinct violation from hate speech and the deliberate and conscious publication of fake news .

To strengthen these strategic requests, Ossigeno insists that it is essential to conduct a campaign in each country based on persuasive arguments capable of overcoming the main political and cultural barriers such as the minimization or even the denial of the seriousness of these problems and the postponement of any countermeasures.

The most convincing arguments against the widespread scepticism are those based on the objective representation of the facts, of the problems, of the most serious violations, of intimidation, threats and unpunished abuses towards the media and journalists, documented in an irrefutable way in every individual.

In other words: the weapons of persuasion must be produced locally, in each country, through independent, active and in-depth monitoring of the violations with verifiable results, capable of effectively supplementing the news published by the media on these phenomena which is fragmentary, insufficient and often inaccurate or incomplete.

After the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak, the European Parliament and the European Commission have begun to do more in this direction. They have allocated more substantial funds for monitoring activities, to support investigative journalism, to raise public awareness.

Ossigeno believes that this increased attention can produce good results and hopes to be able to contribute to the implementation of these activities with its wealth of knowledge, competence and experience. Ossigeno is part of ECPMF, the non-profit organisation based in Leipzig that will conduct this monitoring for the European Commission. In addition, Ossigeno has presented its project for the training of observers and for the creation of those indispensable networks of support while waiting for politics to solve the problems.

The financing of these projects offers a great opportunity. It would be serious to waste it. It would be a serious waste to ignore the best practices deployed over many years in this field. I really hope that, instead, their value is fully exploited. There is no time to lose and therefore we must not waste time reinventing the wheel. How should we act? How can we combine efforts in this direction? On this I welcome your attention and your contribution of ideas and proposals.

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